Theology of Heart and Mind

Theology of Heart and Mind April 15, 2011

Even though I occasionally download a novel to my iPad, this is why I will never give up on real, cardboard-paste-and-paper books: I got this in the mail yesterday, and it was so tantalizingly beautiful, so sweet to the hand – and then I opened it and the newness of the page and ink nearly made me dizzy with delight, and — yes, I did it — I took a great big sniff of my new, beautiful book.

A bouquet of roses couldn’t please me more.

Tactile and sensory pleasures aside, I began reading Pope Benedict’s Great Teachers last night, and I like it very much. This is a collection of the Holy Father’s lessons given during his weekly general audiences from October 2009 to July 2010, focused mostly on the great teachers of the 13th century, who played such a hand in the reform and continuance of our living (and therefore always breathing, huffing, sighing, yelling, donnybrook-loving) church.

Pope Benedict also writes about sacred architecture of that era and what lessons our great churches continue to impart to us, and he touches on monastic and scholastic theology, but mostly, this collection is short discourses on, well, Great Teachers; Hugh and Richard of Saint-Victor, John of Salisbury, Peter Lombard, Francis, Dominic, Anthony, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Bernard of Clairvaux and others. There are no women in this particular collection, but the Holy Father has been giving weekly discourses on the Great Women of the Church this past year (like this one), so that volume will no doubt be forthcoming and fascinating.

Where I ended, before sleep overtook:

What can we learn today from the often heated confrontation between Bernard and Abelard and, in general, between monastic and scholastic theology? Above all I believe it shows the usefulness of and the need for a healthy discussion in the Church, especially when the questions debated have not been defined by the magisterium, which continues to be, however, an essential point of reference. St. Bernard, but also Abelard himself, always recognized, without doubting, its authority. Moreover, the condemnations that the latter suffered remind us that in the theological field there must be a balance between what we might call the architectonic principles that have been given to us by Revelation and that, because of this, always are of prime importance, and the interpretative principles suggested by philosophy, that is, by reason, which has an important function, but only instrumental. When this balance between the architecture and the instruments of interpretation diminishes, theological reflection runs the risk of being contaminated with errors, and then it corresponds to the magisterium to exercise that necessary service to truth that is proper to it.

Moreover, it must be emphasized that, between the motivations that induced Bernard to place himself against Abelard and to request the intervention of the magisterium, was, also, the concern to safeguard simple and humble believers, who must be defended when they run the risk of being confused or led astray by opinions that are too personal and by theological argumentations without scruples, which might endanger their faith.

Finally, I would like to recall that the theological confrontation between Bernard and Abelard ended with full reconciliation between them, thanks to the mediation of a common friend, Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, of whom I spoke in a previous catechesis. Abelard showed humility in acknowledging his errors; Bernard used great benevolence. There prevailed in both what should truly be in the heart when a theological controversy is born, that is, to safeguard the faith of the Church and to make truth triumph in charity. May this also be the attitude with which there are confrontations in the Church, always keeping as the aim the pursuit of truth.

As I said yesterday, our church is always in the midst of some kind of debate. It is not a dead thing; it is alive and kicking.

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